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That was the year that was

| Monday, Jan. 1, 2001

Before we usher in '2001, A Sports Odyssey,' let's take a moment and reflect back on the year in sports.

Not bad, eh• Maybe even (from a local standpoint) great. Or, as close to great as we've managed in recent years. And pretty soon we get to blow up Three Rivers Stadium. Life, of the sporting variety, is good.

In case you missed it, here's how 2000 went:

  • The highest high - Mario Lemieux returns.

    Could there be any doubt• Just the idea of Mario Lemieux making a comeback at 35 was delicious enough. That he would come back and play so well in his first game with so many people expecting so much of him made for a never-to-be-forgotten night, and a great, great story.

  • The lowest low - The Steelers lose to Cleveland for the second time in two years.

    Forget about the referee's mistake at game's end. It shouldn't have been close enough to matter. Maybe it was fitting that this loss could have cost the Steelers a playoff spot.

  • The most in-between - Paul Spadafora.

    He kept his IBF lightweight title, but for much of the year, he did not look impressive. Only in his final fight of the year, a December defense against Billy Irwin, did he show some of his old magic.

  • The feel-bad story of the year - The trials of Ray Lewis and Rae Carruth.

    It didn't happen here, but the impact has been felt throughout sports.

  • The feel-bad story of the year II - The trials of Al Martin.

    It didn't happen here, but it felt as if it did.

  • The most irrelevant story of the year - The hiring of Dennis Miller for ABC's 'Monday Night Football.'

    I confess the move had me intrigued. I actually thought a national network was about to take an irreverent look at the NFL. Instead, what we got was someone whose ad-libs seemed scripted and whose comic references were so obscure (or, unfunny) that you wasted time trying figure them out, or straining to hear what he said. Miller's contributions as fan-in-the-booth were unnecessary. I'm glad he's a fan, but that doesn't enhance my enjoyment of the telecast. I certainly didn't need him to tell me Mike Martz is an offensive genius or to cite some statistic off the pre-game notes. Thanks for nothing, Dennis.

  • The story we forgot completely about once it happened - The return of Pirates catcher Jason Kendall from a season-ending ankle injury in 1999.

    We had questions, but he had answers. After awhile, you forgot the questions.

  • The story we went ga-ga over that we probably shouldn't have - The opening of the new practice facilities for Pitt and the Steelers on the Southside.

    Yes, it looks nice, and, yes, it represents quite an improvement over what both teams had in the past, but, deep down, it's still just a building and some grass. What the teams do on Saturdays and Sundays is still more important.

  • The name we never got right - It's Plaxico Burress, but it's pronounced 'Plexico.'

    We knew it, but we forgot. If only he had done something to make us remember.

  • The feel-good story of the year - The hiring of Lloyd McClendon as Pirates coach.

    It comes with no guarantees, and, as with all big-league managers, it comes with an expiration date, but let's enjoy this while we can. The Pirates gave one of their own a chance to turn things around and struck a blow against institutional racism at the same time. Here's hoping this story feels just as good a year from now.

  • The feel-strange story of the year - The hiring of Ivan Hlinka as Penguins coach.

    It was supposed to be significant that a Czech would become a head coach in the NHL, but something happened. Oh, yeah, Mario happened.

    Bill Modoono is a columnist for the Tribune-Review.

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